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It seems the more ways there are to pay bills, the more ways there are for companies to mess up applying the payments. If you are paying your bill by snail mail, make sure you send it out at least ten days before the due date to allow time for delivery and processing. If you are paying using the company's Web site, pay attention to the fine print. Most have language that states payments submitted after a certain cut off time will be applied the next day or within so many business days. So even though you may think your payment is being immediately applied, you may get hit with a late fee.
If you have your bills set up for autopay and have a fixed monthly payment, make sure that amount is enough to cover the minimum payment, otherwise--you guessed it--you'll get hit with a late fee. If you paid your bill on time and don't think you should have been charged a late fee, pick up the phone, explain the circumstances to the operator, and request the fee be waived. Most companies will waive the fee as a courtesy, but don't expect them to do it again and again.